Excerpt : Prelude
Excerpted from The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary by William Shunn, available now!

23 February 1987

The detective unlocks my tiny room and drags a plastic chair in from the hallway.

“Mister Shunn,” she says, “I’d like to ask you some questions now, if you have a few minutes.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” I say, narrowing my eyes. My stinging eyes.

There’s no one but the detective and me in this consultation booth, no knob on the inside of the door. The detective locks us in, sits down, crosses her legs, and smooths her short, short skirt.

I squirm in my chair. She’s disconcertingly blond, mid-thirties. I’m nineteen years old, and I haven’t been alone so close to a woman in five months. With no table between us, our knees nearly touch. This is against mission rules in so many ways, I can’t even count. She arranges a steno pad atop her bare thigh, pencil sharpened and poised.

“Should I call you, what is it, ‘Elder’ instead?”

I try to breathe easy and keep my eyes above her neck. “Either way.”

“Your name, please, Elder?”

I’m confused. “You used it a minute ago.”

“For the record.” Her green eyes don’t blink. “Full name.”

I touch the spot on my sweater where the black name tag should have been. “Donald William Shunn. The Second.”



“Are you a Canadian citizen?”

“No, I’m American.”

“And you’ve been in Canada for how long?”

“Five months, about.”

“Any previous criminal record?”


She takes sharp, efficient notes in shorthand, a skill I didn’t know still existed.

“Okay, Elder,” she says, crossing her legs the other way. “Let’s talk about your activities today.”

I keep my eyes up, up. “I’ve been through this already, with the constable at the airport.”

She shrugs. “Now you’re going through it with me, and you’ll probably go through it with someone else after that. That’s how these things go.”

“I’d like to talk to my mission president.”

“So would we, Elder. We take terrorism very seriously.”

The word knocks the wind out of me. “What?”

“Terrorism, conspiracy . . .”

“Conspiracy? There’s no conspiracy.”

She taps her pencil against the pad. “Imagine what it looks like from here.”

I’m going to prison. I’m going to prison, and I’m going to die there.

“I’m not a terrorist.” The words grate in my throat. “I already explained what happened.”

“Explain it to me. Help me out here. We can’t get any of your people on the phone. All we have is you. All you have is you.”

I close my eyes, trying to work my frozen lungs. How many times was Joseph Smith in scrapes like this? Plenty, and he got through it.

Well, no. Actually, they shot him in the end. But I try not to think about that. I can get through this.

“Elder Shunn, tell me,” says the detective. “Tell me how you ended up here.”

My impulse is to blurt out everything. I take a deep breath. I choose my details with care.

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About the Book

What happens when an ambivalent young Mormon missionary is pushed to the limit in a challenge to prove his faith? Hint: the outcome is explosive. The Accidental Terrorist is the long-awaited memoir from Hugo and Nebula Award–nominated author William Shunn, based on his popular podcast. Available now from Sinister Regard!